Communist Yugoslav Croatia
After 1945, Yugoslavia's Communist regime worked to snuff out manifestations of Croatian nationalism wherever they appeared, labeling advocates of Croatian national interests as "neo-Ustase." Croatia was a relatively wealthy northwestern republic with longstanding cultural ties to Western Europe and a tolerance for liberal political experimentation. The removal of Rankovic in 1966 unleashed a strong Croatian nationalist movement, led by the Matica Hrvatska society. The movement played on Croatian fears of Serbian dominance and sought political reforms that would substantially increase Croatian autonomy, but it clashed with Serbian and Slovenian interests and threatened the unity of the federation.
Political, economic, and cultural tensions in the late 1960s sharply increased nationalist feeling in Croatia. In 1967 Croatian intellectuals, including Miroslav Krleza, the most respected literary figure in Croatia, signed a statement denying the validity of Serbo-Croatian as a historical language and promoting Croatian as a distinct language. The ensuing polemics escalated into a conflict over discrimination. Croatian historians recalled exploitation of Croatia by the Serb-dominated prewar government, and Croatian economists complained of disproportionate levies on Croatia for the federal budget and development fund. Party leaders in Zagreb won popularity by defending the economic interests of the republic, and nationalist leadership groups, including Matica Hrvatska, Croatia's oldest cultural society, began calling for constitutional changes to give the republic virtual independence. In November 1971, university students went on strike and demonstrators marched through the streets. Tito pressed Croatian party leaders to quiet the nationalists, but the unrest continued. Finally, police and soldiers arrested hundreds of student leaders. The authorities disbanded Matica Hrvatska and purged "nationalists" and liberals from all Croatian organizations and institutions.
The rise of nationalism halted the liberal movement in the national party. Tito called for stricter adherence to democratic centralism and proclaimed that the League of Communists would remain the binding political force of Yugoslavia, and that the league could not decentralize without endangering the country's integrity. He also called for the party to reassume its leading role and reestablish its control over the country's political and economic life. Through 1972 Tito overcame unprecedented local defiance to purge reformist party leaders in Serbia, Slovenia, Macedonia, and Vojvodina. He replaced them in most instances with antireform party veterans who had displayed less political talent than their predecessors but were considered more politically reliable. In 1974 the Party's Tenth Congress elected Tito party president for life and proclaimed that Yugoslavian "self-managed socialism" would remain under firm party control. The leadership muzzled the press, arrested dissidents, pressured universities to fire outspoken professors, and redoubled efforts to promote Tito's cult of personality.
National aspirations in the early 1970s, reached a brief peak in what was called the Croatian Spring, but their threat to the federation caused Tito to crack down severely in 1972. Tito's intervention to purge the nationalist elements of the Croatian party in 1972 moderated the republic's political climate for the next two decades. In the 1970s and 1980s, Croatia remained the second most prosperous Yugoslav republic.
The influence of the moderate wing of the Croatian League of Communists was felt in the Serbian-Slovene polemics of the 1980s, when the Croats often attempted to act as mediators and avoid reviving the ancient Serb-Croat nationalist antagonism within their republic. Because 30 percent of the members of the Croatian League of Communists were Serbs in 1989, a substantial difference of opinion arose by the end of the decade as to Croatia's proper position toward the issues in the Serb-Slovene dispute.
The 1989 election of the moderate Ante Markovic, a Croat, as a reform prime minister, moderated Croatia's position on some federal issues. Beginning in 1988, however, both official and unofficial Croatian sources were highly critical of the policies of Slobodan Milosevic, particularly his manipulation of party politics in Vojvodina and the staging of demonstrations in the Croatian province of Knin, a Serbian enclave. The issue of the Serbian minority promised further conflict when Vojvodina proposed creation of four autonomous provinces in Croatia, all with large Serbian populations. Croatia strongly supported Slovenia on the Serbian trade embargo issue in early 1990. Such issues caused heated polemics with Serbia, and between pro- and anti-Serbian factions of the Croatian League of Communists.
In 1989 the Croatian League of Communists followed the Slovene party in legalizing opposition parties and establishing multiparty elections. The republic amended its constitution in 1990 to create the statutory basis for such elections. In 1989 the Croatian League of Communists became the first Yugoslav party organization at any level to hold direct elections of party officials. Among noncommunist groups formed that year were the Association for a Yugoslav Democratic Initiative (which had thirteen affiliates throughout Yugoslavia in 1990), the Croatian Democratic Union, and the Croatian Social Liberal Alliance, all with strong reformist platforms.
The Croatian Democratic Union, led by former Tito colleague Franjo Tudjman, won a sweeping victory in the first Croatian multiparty election in 1990, forming the first postwar noncommunist government in Yugoslavia. Because that coalition had a nationalist and separatist platform, its success intensified the threat of secession and national collapse. Bosnia and Hercegovina feared that Croatia planned a takeover of Bosnian territory that was once part of Croatia. In the election, the reorganized Croatian League of Communists and the reform Coalition of People's Accord trailed the Democratic Union, in that order. These developments in Croatia consolidated the "northwest bloc" of Slovenia and Croatia in Yugoslav politics, put those republics into the mainstream of East European political reform, and widened the gap between them and Serbia.
In 1990 the sweeping victory of Franjo Tudjman's anticommunist Croatian Democratic Union in the republican parliamentary elections brought a new rush of Croatian nationalism. Croats campaigned to distinguish Croatian as a separate language, and new Slavic-root words were introduced to replace words borrowed from foreign languages. Old Croatian national symbols reappeared, and in October 1989, a statue of revolutionary patriot Josip Jelacic was restored to Zagreb's central square, 42 years after its removal by federal authorities.
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